Planet Golf — 02 August 2012 by Bob Sherwin
For a golfer, best to be in the West

Links-style Chambers has one tree on the course, behind No. 15.

If you are a golfer and live in one of the 12 western states, you are one fortunate hacker.

According to, an arm of the Sports Illustrated publishing empire, the west is where you can find the best public courses in America. This week the web site came out with its biennial 100 Best Golf Courses You Can Play (read: public), and 41 of them (that’s 41 percent according to my math) are in just nine western states.

Drilling down further into the list, five of the top 10 are in the West, 12 of the top 20 are in the West and 14 of the top 25 are in the West.

The West Rules.

Here is the top 10:

      1. Pacific Dunes, Or.
      2. Pebble Beach, Ca.
      3. Pinehurst No. 2, N.C.
      4. Whistling Straits, Wisc.
      5. Kiawah Island, S.C.
      6. Bethpage Black, N.Y.
      7. TPC Sawgrass, Fla.
      8. Bandon Dunes, Or.
      9. Old Macdonald, Or.
      10. Spyglass Hill, Ca.

Who would have imagined that Oregon would have three of the top 10 courses in the country, including No. 1 in Pacific Dunes. However, if you’ve ever played the Bandon properties (as the golfer above tries to get out of the fescue) you can understand why. They are all mostly links style golf layouts and in most cases better than you can find in Scotland. And they are just about 500 years newer.

Bandon's four courses fit naturally into the terrain

If you live in the West, Bandon has to be on your golf destination list at some point. When I first played the courses four years ago, I did come away with the feeling that Pacific Dunes was the best of the trio.

Since then Old Macdonald was added in 2010. I played that course last year and I have to say, for me, it didn’t quite measure up to the other three, although it’s still definitely a top 25 course in the nation.

What I came away with on my second Bandon trip with the renewed quality of the Bandon Dunes course. I had a better appreciation for its beauty and challenges. Bandon Dunes is rated the 15th best course and I think it should be in the top 10.

Bandon has the first, ninth and 15th best courses. Not bad for what was once an abandoned wind-swept plateau above the crashing Pacific. The fourth course there is Bandon Trails, which has some inland meadow holes, but is also wonderful. Not to get greedy, but I don’t know how this is not on the list somewhere.

Looking back from behind at Pebble's famous No. 18 par-5

The other thing about this list, particularly the top 10, is the vast differences in when they were opened. The Bandon courses and Whistling Straits in Wisconsin (No. 4) all were opened within the past 15 years while venerable places such as No. 2 Pebble (1919), No. 3 Pinehurst No. 2 (1907) and No. 6 Bethpage Black (1936), were all opened in the first half of the 20th Century. It means the old ones can stand the test of time and the new ones can hold up well against the classic layouts.

California is the place to play in the West as that mighty state has 10 of the 100 courses, more than any state. Specifically, Monterey/Carmel is perhaps is the best spot in the country for golf. It has No. 2 (Pebble), No. 10 (Spyglass Hill), No. 13 (Pasatiempo), No. 42 (Spanish Bay) and nearby No. 64 CordeValle. This doesn’t include the ultra-private Cypress Point Country Club, considered by many (me) as the finest course in the world. It’s just that us folks can’t get on it.

Troon North, Pinnacle course.

Second most courses in the West is seven with both Arizona and surprising Oregon. Arizona’s top course is No. 20, Troon North, Pinnacle course, in Scottsdale.

Besides the Bandon mecca, Oregon has a couple courses near Bend on the list, Pronghorn and Crosswater at Sunriver, as well as Pumpkin Ridge near Portland.

Hawaii, highly underrated, has four courses. The highest rated course is No. 16. The Prince at Princeville on the island of Kauai.

Colorado has four courses represented. Red Sky Ranch near Vail is the highest rated at No. 34.

Nevada, with at least two distinctive golf regions (Vegas and Reno/Tahoe areas), also has four courses on the list. The best among them is Shadow Creek, the stylish Vegas course at No. 17.

Idaho, known more for spuds than divots, has two courses. One is the Coeur d’Alene Resort with its iconic Island Green (No. 92) and Circling Raven (No. 90). Circling Raven, a relatively new entry, should move up the list over the years as golfers discover what a quality course it is.

Cascata, near Vegas, is No. 58.

New Mexico also has a pair of courses on the list, the highest being No. 31 Paa-Ko Ridge in  Albuquerque.

Washington has one representative but it’s a good one, the 5-year-old Chamber Bay links-style course near Tacoma. Chambers will host the 2015 U.S. Open.

Here is the rest of the top 100:

      1. Pasatiempo, Ca.; 14. Chambers Bay, Wa.; 15. Bandon Dunes, Or.; 16. The Prince at Princeville, HI.; 17. Shadow Creek, NV.; 18. Kapalua Plantation, HI; 20. Troon North (Pinnacle), AZ.; 22. 22. Mauna Kea, HI.; 25. Torrey Pines, Ca.; 30. Trump National, Ca.
        1. Paa-Ko Ridge, NM; 34. Red Sky Ranch, Co.; 37. We-Ko-Pa (Cholla), AZ.; 38. Pronghorn, Or.; 40. We-Ko-Pa (Saguaro), AZ.; 42. The Links at Spanish Bay, Ca.; 44. Black Mesa, NM; 45. Crosswater at Sunriver, Or.; 46. The Challenge at Manele, HI.
      1. Troon North (Monument), AZ.; 53. PGA West, Ca.; 56. Pumpkin Ridge, Or.; 58. Cascata, NV; 64. CordeValle, Ca.; 65. Wolf Creek, NV; 66. Wynn Las Vegas, NV; 70. The Broadmoor East, Co.; 77. La Quinta, Ca.; 79. Lakota Canyon Ranch, Co.87. Southern Dunes, AZ.; 90. Circling Raven, Id.; 91. Rustic Canyon, Ca.; 92. Coeur d’Alene, Id.; 93. The Boulders (South), AZ.; 94. Redlands Mesa, Co.; 99. Grayhawk (Talon), AZ.

Black Mesa, one of two New Mexico courses in the top 100.

Also listed among the ratings stories are the top-ranked courses state by state. Below are those lists of the 12 western states. You can check these out then compare them to the state-by-state rankings in our Road Holes section. You just hit the Road Holes logo at the top of the page and find courses broken down not just by states but in some cases by region/city.

Arizona: 1. Troon North (Pinnacle); 2. We-Ko-Pa (Cholla); 3. We-Ko-Pa (Seguaro).

California: 1. Pebble Beach; 2. Spyglass Hill; 3. Pastiempo.

Colorado: 1. Red Sky Ranch (Norman); 2. The Broadmoor East; 3. Lakota Canyon Ranch.

Hawaii: 1. The Prince at Princeville (Kauai); 2. Kapalua Plantation (Maui); 3. Mauna Kea (Kauai).

Idaho: 1. Circling Raven; 2. Coeur d’Alene; 3. Osprey Meadows.

Montana: 1. Wilderness Club; 2. Old Works; 3. Big Mountain.

Nevada: 1. Shadow Creek; 2. Cascata; 3. Wolf Creek.

New Mexico: 1. Paa-Ko Ridge; 2. Black Mesa; 3. Twin Warriors.

Oregon: 1. Pacific Dunes; 2. Bandon Dunes; 3. Old Macdonald.

Arizona's Grayhawk, 99th on the list.

Utah: 1. Sand Hollow (Championship); 2. Entrada at Stone Canyon; 3. Coral Canyon.

Washington: 1. Chambers Bay; 2. Wine Valley; 3. Palouse Ridge.

Wyoming: 1. Powder Horn (Eagle/Stag); 2. Teton Pines; 3. Jackson Hole.

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About Author

Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 53rd year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 19 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur the 2015 U.S. Open and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for Cascade Golfer Magazine and Destination Golfer. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, Aldarra near Seattle. Despite (or perhaps because) of his 14 handicap, he won the 'Super Senior'' (65 and older) championship in 2017. He has a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle.

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